MAYBE A TIME FOR OPTIMISM ABOUT KENNY’S BOYS?
International football seems to get mixed reviews these days. On the one hand, we all love a summer tournament like the Euros or the World Cup – even the latter is getting a winter berth this year – but on the other, many see it as a hindrance to the domestic league and European cups season. It’s a debate that never seems to get resolved.
Being an avid follower of the Republic of Ireland team is not always easy. In fact, it never really is, but with the last few results, is this a time for a sense of quiet optimism.
Over the last few years, the FAI has fallen into financial shambles. The antics of a certain Mister Delaney being the catalyst for the bulk of such trouble. That aside however, the decisions made to seek quick-fix solutions in the past led to an awful undoing.
Huge money was thrown the way of Giovanni Trappatoni and while he did gather a number of important results on the field, including qualification Euro 2012, the style of play he adapted was overly-reliant on defense and general negativity. By the end of his tenure, a change was badly needed.
Next up was Martin O’Neill who took in Roy Keane as his second-in-command. Again, there’s no denying that the Derryman led us to an impressive series of famous wins over the likes of Germany, Italy and Austria along the way, his spell also ended in fairly drab circumstances. An absolute mauing at home to Denmark in 2017 compounded that.
Now thought, after much chopping and changing. Stephen Kenny, who succeeded a short dig-out spell from returning manager Mick McCarthy, seems to have gotten a bit of a foothold with what he wants to do. The last few results, of which included a friendly win over Qatar and decent draws against Serbia, Portugal and Belgium have shown this. Not forgetting the late win over Lithuania.
He seems keen to give as many players as possible a run-out and gain experience of playing in a green jersey. In the not too distant past, as the likes of Robbie Keane and Shay Given got older, it seemed as though it became harder to get out of playing for the Ireland team than it was to get on it.
As a result of this overplaying of the tried-and-tested lads, younger players like Enda Stephens, John Egan and Matt Doherty, to name but a few, had to wait a lot longer to get their run in the side. Kenny seems to be aware of that situation and, going by his actions, he gives off the impression that he wants to start from scratch with the newbies.
Last weekend’s draw with Belgium was earned with a spirited performance. Unlike previous years, it was refreshing to see Ireland get the ball on the deck and pass it around the field with a greater sense of purpose and deliberation. Chiedozie Ogbene’s overhead kick for the first goal got the headlines, but there was more brewing underneath the surface.
Not that I’m any sort of body-language expert but one could tell there was a sense of focus and steely determination amongst the players. What’s more, if their expressions at the final whistle are anything to go by, they look as though they truly enjoy playing for their country and that it’s not a needless distraction from their club commitments.
Of course, this was followed up with a 1-0 win over Lithuania. Far from a classic but a wonder goal deep in stoppage time from Troy Parrot will surely stick most in the memory of fans from that night.
The majority of our international players ply their trade in lower league football in England. Usually that’s a death-nail in the hopes of ever getting to represent your country for most national sides. Not for Ireland. And maybe that’s why they embrace the sights and sounds of a packed Aviva Stadium on a Saturday evening.
It’s fair game to suggest that for too long, promising Irish talent was overly-reliant on getting spotted by high-flying English clubs. That trend seems to be fading. Josh Cullen is playing great stuff with Anderlecht in Belgium and a number of rising talents, such as Gavin Bazuna, have gained valuable experience from their League of Ireland days.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s great to have players playing at the very top level. Caoimhín Kelleher being the toast of Merseyside – the red half anyway – when Liverpool lifted the Carabao Cup was great. Shane Duffy looks as though he’s back to his best since his return to Brighton, but at least we’re not as dependent on those élite clubs as we once were.